Archive for February, 2018

JimenaBlog

Using Public Art to Bring Visibility to Water Infrastructure

There is no doubt that our nation’s infrastructure systems need to be upgraded and water infrastructure is no exception. Water and wastewater infrastructures are aging and in need of replacement and rehabilitation; in fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructures a grade of ‘D’ in 2013. Furthermore, climate change, increasing populations, and insufficient funds are likely to exacerbate these challenges and without strong public support, water infrastructure improvements may not be given the priority they deserve.

Throughout my time as a water engineer, I have concluded that most people generally understand the importance of strong and reliable water infrastructure systems, yet they are not familiar with the processes required to treat and manage water, wastewater, and stormwater, as well as the issues currently faced by these types of infrastructure systems. Unless there is a pipe burst, a water shortage, a sewer overflow, or a tragedy like Flint, water systems and their current condition are not usually part of everyday conversations.

So why do most people take water infrastructure for granted? In my consideration, the main reason is that water systems are set up to make us forget about them. Compared to other infrastructures, like roads and bridges, these systems are buried, hidden, or placed far away from communities. How many times do we think about the water we use when we open the water faucet or flush the toilet?

While pursuing my master’s in urban and regional planning, I became interested in public art and placemaking. However, while browsing an issue of Public Art Review, I realized that my new interests could be the way to make water infrastructure systems more visible. When properly integrated, public art not only makes water infrastructure systems noticeable, but makes them of the urban fabric.

A great example of the integration of public art in water infrastructure is the Brightwater Treatment Plant, a wastewater facility in King County, Washington, which I visited in August 2016.  The plant successfully integrates public art throughout the treatment process. The public art not only has made the plant visible, but part of the neighborhood’s urban fabric. The community continuously comes to walk around the beautiful gardens and check out the public art. In fact, it has become so popular that community center is used for wedding receptions!

But the public art has also been a way to educate the community about the treatment of wastewater. This is the case of Buster Simpson’s BioBoulevard, a (shown here), a public art piece that is also a reclaimed water pipeline. Working closely with engineers, this purple pipe tells the story of the marine outfall discharging to Puget Sound. The portholes on top of the pipe expose the water to the sun and allow the chlorine to off-gas, while representing the oxygen diffusers in the actual outfall. “Do not drink” is written in all languages represented in King County throughout the pipeline.

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Although procuring, creating, installing, and maintaining public art requires money, time, and experience, bringing public artists into the development of infrastructure can be rewarding and beneficial. So, as I continue my professional career, I challenge my fellow engineers and planners concerned with water infrastructure: why not use public art to bring visibility and engage the public to address some of the concerns?

 

Jimena Larson is an environmental engineer and urban planner from Bogota, Colombia interested in water, infrastructure, and urban design challenges.

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Some Thoughts After Traveling to Iceland (Climate Change and Geothermal Energy)

In the past few years, Iceland has become one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. So last Thanksgiving, I went to Iceland to see what the big fuss was all about. One of the many tourists draws of Iceland in winter is the promise of venturing off-the-beaten-path to remote, wild, snowy fields. The landscape was filled with wild horses and sheep. You can also find glacial lagoons and geysers erupting as you trek across the country.  After traveling there, my advice is to do yourself a favor by soaking in the Blue Lagoon and enjoy a facial mask. And make sure you view the Northern Lights in the dark!

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Some of the scenes in Game of Thrones (GOT) were filmed in Iceland. One of the scenes of John Snow walking on a glacier, shown in the following pictures, was filmed in Vatnajökull National Park. Another fun fact is that Iceland’s water smells like sulfur almost everywhere on this Island.

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https://www.theverge.com/2017/8/21/16177632/game-of-thrones-season-7-episode-6-recap-fantasy-league

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http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2017/12/01/09/46DD5D2200000578-0-image-a-23_1512122324002.jpg

It is Iceland’s natural beauty that attracts the tourists, but that natural beauty is now threatened by climate change. According to our tour guide, this Vatnajökull  glacier (the biggest glacier in the country) is melting approximately 100 meters (320 ft.) per year, causing sea levels near Iceland to rise. Reports from the Icelandic Government’s Committee on Climate Change (IGCCC) claim that if we don’t do anything to help reduce climate change, Iceland’s glaciers will no longer exist by the next century. During an ice cave tour, the guide told us it is harder and harder to find good ice caves to even see, because melting ice makes the water flowing beneath them very unstable.
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I would say Iceland is a place on earth that doesn’t look like earth. There are about 130 volcanoes on the island–30 of them.  Even though we call it Iceland, it actually more like Fireland or Hotland. Iceland lies in the crack in the Earth’s crust where the North American tectonic plate and Eurasian tectonic plate meet, so while the Earth’s crust slowly tears apart, energy releases—giving Iceland its vast geothermal energy resources. Once scientists discovered this in 1970s, Iceland started capitalizing on this energy resource. According to Ásgeir Margeirsson, CEO of Geysir Green Energy, Iceland citizen save four times cost for heating.

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https://www.icelandontheweb.com/articles-on-iceland/nature/geology/geothermal-heat

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http://www.nea.is/geothermal/

Iceland is a pioneer in using geothermal energy all over the world. The country’s geothermal resources come from the dynamic volcano, and several major geothermal power plants produce around 30% of the country’s electricity. One of the most popular places in Iceland is the Blue Lagoon. This is the world biggest man-made lagoon, which is fed by nearby geothermal power, and renew every two days. Superheated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow, and used to run turbines that generate electricity.

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There is a lot to learn from Iceland when it comes to adopting clean and alternative energy. Companies such as Tesla . There are many solar energy companies that are taking the lead in powering our homes and automobiles using a cleaner form of energy. Once alternative energy options, such as home solar panels, can be mass-produced cheaply, more people will be inclined to adopt these new technologies. Until then, we can help to fight climate change by eliminating our carbon footprint and choose using green energy.

Mei Fang, is an urban planner with a strong passion for urban and landscape design, she also enjoys looking for the variety culture inside of the city.





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